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“Nato refuses to rule out crossing into Pakistan as it targets insurgent groups”.
This was the headline over an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on 3 December 2011 by its diplomatic editor Julian Borger.
On the same page, in a supplementary report by Saeed Shah, the paper also reports: “Pakistan’s military commanders have ordered their troops to return fire if they come under attack from Nato forces”.
Pakistan and the United States – both countries possessing an arsenal of nuclear weapons – are supposed to be allies in the so-called “War against Terror”. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Last weekend a US drone killed 24 Pakistani soldiers who were asleep in their beds in a military base at Mohmand near the border with Afghanistan. The US Nato commander General John Allen described the incident as “a tragedy”. However, given the abysmal state of relations between the two nominal allies, it is surely legitimate to ask: might the Nato attack not have been deliberate, intended as a warning to Pakistan to shift its troops out of the Afghan-Pakistan border zone so as to give the US a free hand to hunt down the insurgents there?
Borger does not pose that question in his article but his article appears to provide support for such an interpretation when it says that “an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a fire-free zone – have not been excluded.”
In any case, the incident has not deterred the US from forging ahead with its plan to take out Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.
According to Borger, “Nato commanders are planning a substantial offensive in eastern Afghanistan aimed at insurgent groups based in Pakistan. It will involve an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and cross-border raids with ground troops have not been ruled out.
“The aim of the offensive over the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders such as the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.”
The article continues: “The message being given to the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves.”
Borger quotes an unnamed western diplomat as saying: “The Pakistanis may not have the strength to defeat the Taliban and the Haqqanis on their own, even if they wanted to.”
Meanwhile, in retaliation for the slaughter of their soldiers at Mohmand, the Pakistanis have closed US supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and are preventing the US from using a Pakistan airbase to launch drones.
The death of the 24 Pakistani soldiers has inflamed public opinion in Pakistan, where US popularity was already at rock bottom, particularly since its troops violated Pakistani sovereignty earlier this year when it sent in a secret helicopter mission to assassinate Osama bin Laden without giving prior warning to the authorities in Islamabad.
This story looks likely to run.